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BSCB Trans-Siberian Railway Photo Reports described as “National Geographic meets Car and Driver”

2015 GMC Yukon. Picture courtesy of, Tiger picture courtesy of National Geographic

TTAC Comment #1

If you have been a BSCB reader for the past year you will know about the Trans-Siberian Railway Photo Report I published between September and November 2013, describing the car landscape along the famous railway and going through St Petersburg, Moscow, Lake Baikal, Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi desert and Beijing among other places. I have been publishing these reports on American website The Truth About Cars, and one reader recently described the series as ‘National Geographic meets Car and Driver’. I couldn’t be more honoured!

Relive the entire Series through 24 Photo Reports featuring hundreds of photos here

Ghost motorbike rider Gobi desertIn the Gobi desert, Mongolia – October 2013

Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: The Russian car park

1 VAZ 2106 St PetersburgThe VAZ 2106 is currently the most frequent model in circulation in Russia…

* See the Top 20 most frequent models/Top 55 brands by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 20 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Report here. Now that the Mongolia part of this Photo Report is complete and before we travel to China, I thought I would quickly go back to Russia to share with you some pretty interesting stats about the current car park in that country. I found this a great way to conclude all the reports I made for this country.

4 VAZ 2101 St PetersburgThe VAZ 2101 comes in at #4 with 1.034 million in circulation.

This study was originally published on Russian magazine/website Za Rulem and was kindly shared by gtemnykh on The Truth About Cars. At the end of 2012, there were 36.8 million cars in circulation in Russia, 44.7 million if we include trucks and buses. As expected, the most represented brand is VAZ (Lada) with 37% of the car park or 13.67 million vehicles. However nowadays more VAZ get scrapped than bought (a deficit of 600,000 units over the past year) and as a result VAZ share of the Russian car park is dropping quickly, it was 37.6% in 2011.

7 VAZ 2105 St PetersburgThe VAZ 2105 ranks #7

In fact for the first time ever, more than half the cars in circulation in Russia today (52%) are foreign, a majority of them being RHD imports from Japan… To illustrate this, the second most represented brand in the country is Toyota with 3.13 million vehicles, followed by Nissan at 1.52 million. GAZ comes in at 1.4 million but this number can only decrease as the last GAZ Volga came out of the Nizhny Novgorod factory back in 2010. Moskvich is holding strong in 5th place with 1.27 million units, with the other brands above 1 million being Chevrolet (1.22 million), Ford (1.08) and Hyundai (1.07).

8 VAZ 2114 KazanVAZ 2114 (aka Lada Samara 2) in Kazan, Tatarstan.

Model-wise, the park statistics show how much St Petersburg and Moscow are not representative of the cars in circulation in the country. The Top 9 most represented models in Russia are still VAZ and 16 of the Top 20 models are Russian. Even though its production ended in 2006, the VAZ 2106 has been the most frequent model in Russia for the last 12 years with 1.846 million units currently in circulation. It is followed by the VAZ 2107 at 1.781 million, the VAZ 2121 (aka Lada 4×4) at 1.052 million and the VAZ 2101 at 1.034 million.

10 Toyota CorollaThe 11th gen should help the Toyota Corolla stay within the Top 10.

Further down we have the VAZ 2109 (Samara), 2110, 2105, 2114 (Samara gen 2) and 21099 (Samara sedan). The Toyota Corolla is the #1 foreign nameplate with 647,000 units currently in circulation, and it is estimated that way over 50% of these are RHD. Other foreigners in the Top 20 are the Ford Focus at #12, Renault Logan at #16 and Daewoo Nexia at #17. The Chevrolet Niva at #16 is not a real foreigner.

14 GAZ 3110 OmskGAZ 3110 in Omsk, Siberia

Notice also the GAZ 3110 (last generation Volga) at #14 with 541,000 units, the UAZ 3151 (aka Patriot) at #19 with 385,000 and the GAZ 3102 (1982 Volga) at #20 with 382,000 units.

Full Top 20 most frequent models/ Top 55 brands in the Russian car park below.

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Ulan Ude, Buryatia Photo Report

1 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli

* See the Full Photo Report by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 10 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Report here. Today we are moving across the Lake Baikal to Ulan Ude, 455 km East of Irkutsk and my last stop in Russia before I cross the Mongolian border to the South. And even though this is one of the smallest hops of the trip, again a fascinatingly different car landscape awaits.

2 Toyota Allion GAZ VolgaToyota Allion and GAZ Volga

Firstly it is useful to remember that Ulan Ude is the first (and only) truly Asian city I have visited in Russia, mainly because of the physical appearance of its inhabitants, a large part of which belong to the Buryat ethnicity which is the largest indigenous group in Siberia. Ulan Ude also houses the biggest Lenin head in the world, so please forgive its over-exposure in this photo report but it made for interestingly symbolic pictures…

4 Honda AirwaveHonda Airwave

If in Omsk and Tomsk one third of the cars circulation were right-hand drive used Japanese cars, that ratio rapidly increased to half in Krasnoyarsk and two thirds in Irkustk – let’s keep Lake Baikal aside. So you don’t think it could go any higher? You’re wrong. If we remove the numerous minivans sprawling the centre of the city (mainly the SsangYong Istana, its twin the Mercedes MB140, GAZ Gazelle and Peugeot Boxer), around three quarters of all passenger cars being driven in Ulan Ude are so from the wrong side of the vehicle…

3 Toyota Land Cruiser PradoToyota Land Cruiser and Prado

8 Ulan Ude landcapeUlan Ude car landcape

The Toyota Allion is the favourite here and has been for a while judging by the various generations still very present in the Ulan Ude traffic. Other successful nippons include the ever-present Toyota Probox, Honda Airwave, Toyota Corolla Fielder, Caldina, Opa, Carina and Ipsum. I also spotted one Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. However I haven’t spotted any used Korean imports here.

7 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli

The other main (somehow reassuring) characteristic of the Ulan Ude car landscape is the return of the Lada Zhiguli! Absolutely everywhere in all forms and generations, and more so than in any city I have visited so far. The Ulan Ude car park could actually be described very easily as 75% of Japanese imports, 20% of older Ladas, mainly Zhiguli but also the Oka which had never been that frequent in my trip, Priora and 110, and only 5% of newer models. Many more bruised and battered cars in Ulan Ude than there were in Irkutsk, that’s for sure.

21 GAZ VolgaGAZ Volga and Lenin

In line with the strength of the Zhiguli, I see the Lada Granta take the lead of new car sales in Ulan Ude, followed closely by the Hyundai Solaris and potentially the Renault Logan, very popular as a taxi. Third main specificity of the Ulan Ude landscape and a complete novelty so far in Russia: the near-absence of smaller SUVs. I saw a few Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX and Outlander but that’s about it.

10 SsangYong IstanaSsangYong Istana

Only the bigger and badder SUV survived in Ulan Ude, namely the Toyota Land Cruiser, Prado, Lexus LX or Nissan Patrol. In the Chinese aisle, I spotted a couple of lonely Lifan Breez and Solano: weirdly as we get closer to China Chinese models become rarer.

10 Mongolian border landscapeLast town before Mongolia. Can’t see any Russian cars? Me neither…

After Ulan Ude I took the bus South to cross the border with Mongolia on my way to Ulaanbaatar, and I have one scoop for you from the Russian side of the border: you’d be hard pressed to find any Russian models, new or old, at all! A quick survey showed that of all cars parked on the Russian side, 90% were used Japanese imports!

16 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli

And this concludes the first 10 articles dedicated to the Russian part of my Trans-Siberian Railway long-term Photo Report. Next is Mongolia where I am staying for a few weeks so I will be able to give you my first impressions on the car market there, and then dive a little deeper into the specificities of the Ulaanbaatar car landscape as well as some more remote parts of the country.

Hope you enjoyed Russia, next stop Mongolia!

Full Ulan Ude Photo Report below.

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Lake Baikal, Siberia Photo Report

1 FAW V5 UAZ BukhankaFAW V5 and UAZ Bukhanka

* See the Full Photo Report by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 9 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. This time we are doing a tiny little hop 80 km South East of Irkutsk to the shores of Lake Baikal, more precisely in the Litsvyanka village. Granted, there are not many cars here and the landscape is surely not representative of the region as Litsvyanka is mostly visited by Russian tourists but the mix of cars I saw was so striking once again than I thought it should warrant an update on its own.

2 UAZ BukhankaUAZ Bukhanka

3 Hyundai SolarisHyundai Solaris

If any of you have had the chance of visiting the Japanese countryside (I haven’t, only saw it in movies), it is probably what it would look like… Blink and you will miss the only vehicles that let me know we were not in Japan: the ever-present Hyundai Solaris, a couple of SsangYongs, Hyundais and Kia and one FAW V5 (featured above), a few Lada Zhiguli hidden in the backyards of some lovely Siberian log cabins, three UAZ Bukhanka and one lonely Renault Logan/UAZ Hunter/ZAZ Tavria/Lada 4×4/Oka and GAZ Volga. That’s it. Apart from those, you would swear you are in Japan as almost every single vehicle here is a right-hand drive Japanese import…

4 Toyota ProboxToyota Probox x2

6 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli

It’s simple: I saw way more Toyota Probox than Lada/Zhiguli on the shores of Lake Baikal, and when you take into account the fact that the Probox has only been on sale in Japan for 10 years whereas the Zhiguli’s career started 43 years ago all the way back in 1970 – let alone dominated Russian sales charts for a good 30 of these 43 years, you can appreciate how much of a feat that is.

5 Nissan SerenaNissan Serena

11b Toyota VoxyToyota Voxy

The Toyota Ist, Ractis, Voxy, Alphard and Nissan Serena (all generations) are also popular here, along with the odd (unrelated to Japan although it is successful there too as an import) Mercedes E-Class coupe a few cashed-up Russians in need of Baikal bliss have brought here.

8 Toyota VenzaToyota Venza

9 Nissan BassaraNissan Bassara

On the way from Irkutsk to the Lake Baikal, the only Ladas I saw where the couple of police Samaras posted along the road at every village we passed… I even improved my Japanese models skills in Litsyanka: welcome to the Nissan Bassara and Toyota Vista! As I mentioned above, even though there is an FAW V5 featured in the top picture of this article, that’s the only one I saw in Litsvyanka and it’s only up there because it was so brand-new it didn’t even have any license plates yet! – which by the way is rather frequent in Russia, but unthinkable in many other countries in the world.

7 UAZ Bukhanka Post OfficeUAZ Bukhanka in front of the Litsvyanka Post Office

But wait there are more interesting Baikal facts: not only are Russian car buyers this side of Russia completely in love with used Japanese models, I have now started to spot used Korean imports, which in a way make more sense as they are left-hand drive – as they should be in Russia! This was a little harder to pick when you are focused on checking right-hand drive Japanese models but I did spot one Daewoo Winstorm, and the only country where the Chevrolet Captiva is called that way is South Korea…

10 Daewoo WinstormDaewoo Winstorm

Let’s see if this trend gets confirmed in Ulan Ude, on the other side of Lake Baikal and 455 km East of Irkustk, my last stop in Russia before I pass the Mongolian border.

Full Photo Report below.

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Irkutsk, Siberia Photo Report

1 Honda AirwaveHonda Airwave

* See the Full Photo Report and my estimated Top 10 models by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 8 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. We are now moving 855km East to Irkutsk, which is 80 km off Lake Baikal. And here again a fascinating car landscape awaits… From roughly 30% of the traffic in Omsk and Tomsk to half in Krasnoyarsk, we are now faced with a proper invasion of used Japanese imports in Irkutsk! I have estimated that around two-third of all vehicles in circulation in this city are coming straight from Japan, complete with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car!

2 Honda StepwgnHonda Stepwgn 

This has been one of the most unbelievable evolutions I have witnessed along my trip: starting in St Petersburg and Moscow where absolutely all vehicles are ‘correct’ and left-hand drive, the car park has progressively shifted its steering wheel to the right to reach a very clear majority here in Irkutsk. If in Krasnoyarsk the Toyota Ist was the most popular, here like in Omsk the Toyota Probox is the clear winner, and I have also seen a few with the ‘Succeed’ nameplate.

4 Toyota Probox 1Toyota Probox

Before going through the rest of the most successful Japanese imports, it is important to notice the other main characteristic of the Irkutsk car landscape: the predominance of station wagons. Much more so than in any other city I have visited so far, it seems to be a format that particularly fits the needs of car buyers in this region of Russia. In this context, you would assume the Lada Largus is a resounding success here, but weirdly, not so. This trend seems to have confined itself to Japanese imports, to the exception of a few Kia Cee’d and Peugeot 308 SW.

3 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli

So it won’t come as a surprise then that the Nissan Wingroad and Honda Airwave are by far the most popular Nippon imports in Irkutsk along with the Toyota Probox and Honda Stream. Those very particular Japanese MPVs have also struck a chord here: I’m speaking of the Toyota Alphard, Voxy, Noah, Nissan Serena and other Honda Stepwgn. Other successes include the Toyota Allion, Ractis, Ipsum, Gaia, Regius and Verossa – I saw 2 in the space of one minute here, the same number I had seen since my arrival in Russia, Mitsubishi Mirage Dingo, Dion and Honda Mobilio. The Toyota Will range has now become commonplace: I spotted all 3 models (Cypha, VS and Vi).

11 Lada GrantaLada Granta

7 Lada Zhiguli Honda AirwaveZhiguli and Honda Airwave

If this description kind of sounds like I am in a Japanese city, that’s because it’s almost how it feels being in Irkutsk. There are still hordes of Lada Zhiguli around, but even the police has gone West, driving in Ford Focus or Fiat Linea. The Lada Samara and Kalina are rare, as are the Granta and Priora that are clean enough to still be considered new. I would still bet on a Top 10 ranking for the Granta here, but just.

9 Cadillac SRXCadillac SRX

10 Infiniti FXInfiniti FX

10b Toyota TundraToyota Tundra

On the other hand, I have observed a level of new luxury cars and large SUVs potentially unrivalled since Moscow, in line with Irkutsk’s wealth as the biggest city near the touristic Lake Baikal. The new generation Range Rover is back in force, the Infiniti FX is not limited to the ‘resident’ one anymore: I saw dozens of them in the city, along with Infiniti QX56, Nissan Patrol, Cadillac SRX, BMW 3 and 1 Series, Ford Explorer and F-Series, Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra…

5 Hyundai SolarisHyundai Solaris

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Hyundai Solaris should be the best-seller in Irkutsk, once again extremely consistent across absolutely all the cities I’ve passed, much more so than the Lada Granta for example which is an astounding achievement and a big surprise as far as I am concerned.

6 Toyota RAV4Toyota RAV4

The main difference in the best-sellers list in Irkutsk compared to the rest of the country is the even keener taste for small Asian SUVs: the new generation Toyota RAV4 is literally everywhere already and could be fighting with the Hyundai Solaris for the top spot overall (yep, that much), while the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Nissan Juke, Toyota Prado, Hyundai ix35, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Suzuki Grand Vitara (in this order) are clearly over-represented here. On the other hand, I didn’t see many Renault Duster.

6a Mazda CX-5Mazda CX-5

Vladimir from the #1 Russian magazine Zarulev told me back in Moscow that Mazda and SsangYong had opened assembly plants in Vladivostok, 4,000 km East of Irkutsk, in order to try and woo East-Russian consumers back to left-hand drive cars. I could spot that influence a little in Irkutsk: the Mazda CX-5 is much more frequent than usual, as are the SsangYong Actyon and Actyon Sports. But it’s not a flood yet, so Irkutskers are clearly not that convinced at this stage.

12 FAW V5 Daewoo MatizFAW V5 and Daewoo Matiz

Another category of cars that seems to be more popular here than in other places are the minis: I saw many Kia Venga, Picanto and Chevrolet Spark. Finally, Chinese company FAW is clearly doing a big push in Irkustk with one FAW V5 exhibited near the central bus station (along with an UZ-Daewoo Matiz) and one I picked in the streets, but so far Chinese models are still very limited in the streets of Irkutsk, with the odd Lifan Solano, Chery Indis, Great Wall Hover and BYD F3 spotted.

14 TruckZiL 5301 “Bychek” (thanks Bad_Q, Ian and LCV News)

This was Irkutsk! Hope you enjoyed and that your ears are not frozen yet, because our next stop is the shores of Lake Baikal whose water temperature rarely goes above 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Farhenheit…

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Krasnoyarsk, Siberia Photo Report

1 Toyota IstThe Toyota Ist is by far the most popular used Japanese import in Krasnoyarsk.

* See the Full Photo Report and my estimated Top 10 models by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 7 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. We are now moving 450km East to Krasnoyarsk in the midst of Siberia. And this is it: used right-hand drive Japanese imports have taken over. Although I only stayed in Krasnoyarsk 4 hours it is enough to establish the simple fact that roughly every second car in the city is a used Japanese import, therefore being driven with the steering wheel on the wrong side!

2 Lada ZhiguliZhiguli in front of the Krasnoyarsk Vokzal

2b Lada ZhiguliZhiguli x3

And king of them all is the Toyota Ist, which is fighting with the Lada Zhiguli for the title of most frequent model in the streets of Krasnoyarsk. Yep, that many. The Ist success as a used vehicle in Russia is all the more impressive that its popularity was short-lived in Japan: it ranked #4 for its first year in market there in 2002, #6 in 2003, #8 in 2004 to then disappear from the Top 20 ever since…

3 Honda AirwaveHonda Airwave

3b Toyota Grand HiaceToyota Grand Hiace

3c Mitsubishi eK Toyota bBMitsubishi eK and Toyota bB

Among the ever-expanding variety of Japanese imports I can see in circulation the further East I go, I saw a few current generation Honda Stepwagon and Airwave, Odyssey, Nissan Cube, Serena, Presage, Toyota Wish, Opa, Caldina, Corolla Axio, Voxy, Allion and even one IQ, one Mazda Verisa and one Mitsubishi Airtrek. I even picked one more Toyota Will Cypha! I have to say I will never tire of being astonished at how popular this model is in Russia.

6 Hyundai Elantra Honda PilotHyundai Elantra and Hond Pilot

The Lada Granta, although very well established, may not be the best-selling new model in Krasnoyarsk, that honour could well go to the Hyundai Solaris, once again extremely solid and consistent in every single city I visited since my arrival in Russia 10 days ago. Other very successful new cars here are the Kia Rio, Ford Focus, VW Polo, Hyundai Elantra, Renault Logan and Toyota Camry in this order.

7 Toyota RAV4Toyota RAV4

8 Hyundai Santa FeHyundai Santa Fe and Japanese spec Toyota Corolla

SUVs are here in force, especially the new generation Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe, both already impressively frequent in the streets of Krasnoyarsk, with the Toyota Prado, Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35 and Mazda CX-5 also over-represented.

9 Toyota CorollaNew generation Toyota Corolla and RAV4

As far as recent launches are concerned, I spotted two new generation Toyota Corolla in the space of a couple of hours which to me is quite amazing, one new Lexus IS, one Mercedes CLA and one new Skoda Octavia.

10 Daewoo Nexia Infiniti QX56Daewoo Nexia and Infiniti QX56

Popular luxury models include the new gen Mercedes E-Class, GL-Class and M-Class and Infiniti QX56, while in the Chinese aisle the same two familiar SUVs stand out: the Lifan X60 and Great Wall Hover, each spotted a few times in the streets of Krasnoyarsk.

That was the Krasnoyarsk car landscape for you! I hope this was exotic enough, next stop is Irkutsk near the Lake Baikal…

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Tomsk, Siberia Photo Report

1 GAZ logoGAZ logo

* See the Full Photo Report and my estimated Top 10 models by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 6 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. We are moving 940km North East of Omsk to… Tomsk (hard to not confuse the two but I will do my best). And I am happy to report that at last, the Tomsk car landscape is looking pretty much like what one would expect from Russia. By this I mean a full blanket of Zhiguli, reinforced by many Lada 110 and Kalina welcomed me as I came out of the train station. Reassuring to see all the Zhigulis are not on the verge of extinction.

2 Renault Logan Lada ZhiguliRenault Logan, Lada 4×4 and Zhiguli in front of the Tomsk “Voksal” (train station)

In the same vein, the Lada Granta is clearly the best-selling new car here, it has been vastly adopted by taxi companies and the police, which says it all. I saw many new-looking Lada Priora, a tough achievement in a city where most cars seem to get instantly covered by mud, which could still mean a Top 3 ranking for the model which has gone down drastically nationally in 2013.

1 Lada GrantaLada Granta

3 Chevrolet NivaChevrolet Niva

4 Hyundai SolarisHyundai Solaris and VW Touareg

The remaining podium step should be a tough fight between the Chevrolet Niva, seemingly at its best in Siberia, the Ford Focus which has a strong heritage here looking at the many previous gen models in the streets, the ever-present Hyundai Solaris, very consistently successful everywhere I’ve been, and the Renault Logan which if it does indeed manages a Top 3 ranking should send a big ‘Spasiba’ (Russian for ‘thank you’) letter to all the taxi drivers in the city that have chosen this model.

4b Izh OdaIzh Oda

6 GAZ Volga1967 GAZ Volga

6c GAZ Volga2004 GAZ Volga

Now that we have the best-sellers out of the way, to the specificities of Tomsk. First striking element and it has become clearer and clearer as I have gone East, Toyota should be the clear #2 brand here behind Lada. The Toyota Camry is everywhere in Tomsk, as are the Prado, Land Cruiser and Highlander. Plus I have seen two new generation Toyota Corolla which always stops me in my tracks with my mouth wide open as I have only seen this model in Russia – and also the reason why I wasn’t quick enough to take a few pics…

5 Toyota Land Cruiser Lada 4x4Toyota Land Cruiser and Lada 4×4

9 Subaru XVSubaru XV

The other brand clearly more successful here than in the other cities I passed is Subaru, with the XV already noticeable and a broad range of models spanning a few generations. That Subaru and Toyota get more successful as we ‘approach’ Japan (still 6,500 km away mind you) should not come as a surprise but it’s fascinating to actually see it happen before my eyes.

8 UAZ adGood old me in front of a UAZ Bukhanka billboard.Yep, you can still buy them new here!

The SUVs are back in force in Tomsk (compared to Omsk), perhaps because we have now entered ‘true’ Siberia and once you leave the city there doesn’t seem to be any sealed roads in sight based on what I could see from the train in the two hours preceding my arrival here. And believe me, even though we’re at the end of Summer here it’s already wet and I could see massive ruts on those roads all the way from the train, so a 4WD wouldn’t go amiss here.

7 UAZ PatriotUAZ Patriot

The Renault Duster, new generation Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Nissan Juke (even though technically not a 4WD) are the most popular. Tomsk drivers also seem to have completely fallen in love with the Kia Soul: I saw way more of them than any other city I have passed. I’m also seeing more and more UAZ Patriot, Hunter and Lada 4×4 as I go East, including brand-new ones.

10 Lexus RX Infiniti FXInfiniti FX and Lexus RX

10b Infiniti QX56Infiniti QX56

Among luxury vehicles, a very special mention goes to the Lexus RX: I literally saw the current generation at every street corner, a ratio to the overall traffic potentially higher to St Petersburg or Moscow which in itself is extremely impressive. I now got used to the ‘resident’ Infiniti FX and Tomsk follows the trend. Other models I saw more often than in the previous cities I passed include the new generation Chevrolet Aveo sedan, Hyundai Elantra and Skoda Fabia.

11 Jinbei GranseJinbei Granse

Virtually no Chinese in Tomsk, which is a surprise as I thought I would see an increase the further East I went. I saw my first Jinbei Granse here, but the other 4 lonely models (in 36 hours!) were the unexotic Lifan Solano, Chery Cielo, QQ6 and Indis. Still an odd American trait to the Tomsk car landscape with two Toyota Tundra (made in the US) and one Chevrolet Camaro spotted.

12 Toyota Will CyphaTwo birds unfazed by the outrageous fluorescent orange robe of this Toyota Will Cypha

Last but not least, on to the Japanese imports. To be honest I was half-expecting the entire Tomsk traffic to be driving on the other side of the road, but not so. If anything I believe the Japanese imports ratio may have slightly declined compared to Omsk but then again I may just be getting used to it by now. Most popular are the Toyota Ist, Japanese spec Corolla, Funcargo and Nissan Primera. Other frequent nippons include the Toyota Probox, Spacio, Opa, Noah, Will VS, and I spotted one Nissan Lafesta, one Mitsubishi Delica and… get this: not one, not two but three Toyota Will Cypha, including one in a flashy fluorescent orange robe! I don’t think I could have picked that many in the whole of Japan itself!

That was Tomsk for you, hope the trip was pleasant enough. Next stop: Krasnoyarsk!

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Omsk, Siberia Photo Report

1 Toyota ProboxThe Toyota Probox is the most popular used Japanese import in Omsk.

* See the Full Photo Report and my estimated Top 10 models by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 5 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this Long Term Photo Report here. We are now travelling almost 1000 km South East of Yekaterinburg to Omsk, the start of Siberia and the place where Dostoyevsky was imprisoned… I have alluded to the strange phenomenon of used right-hand drive Japanese imports in Russia in my last photo report as I started seeing a stream of these in Yekaterinburg

1b Toyota ProboxToyota Probox

Well in Omsk this stream has become a full-on river, and I estimate around 30% of the cars in circulation in the city are used Japanese imports, which means almost one-third of the cars are being driven with the steering wheel on the wrong side! Talk about dangerous driving conditions… The Toyota Probox seems to be the most popular in Omsk, with the Toyota Spacio, Estima, Corona, Corolla Fielder and Runx also very successful, complete with their distinct nameplate badge on the grille: in Japan most Toyotas don’t feature the Toyota logo but a nameplate-specific badge.

3 Renault Logan Toyota Corolla Platz Jp importToyota Platz, Toyota Corolla with nameplate badge and Renault Logan

But the list doesn’t stop there! It’s simple, choose any model on sale in Japan in the last 20 years (including recent ones) and chances are it is in Russia, at least in Omsk! It was a good test of my Japanese model naming skills, and a few I spotted during the 10 hours I stopped there include the Toyota Nadia, Opa, Ist, Will VS, Raum, Ipsum, Carina, Granvia, Platz, Ractis, Passo and Sienta, Nissan Liberty, Honda Stepwagon and Freed, Mitsubishi Dingo and Mazda Verisa.

12 Toyota VerossaToyota Verossa

12b Toyota VerossaYep that’s the one…

One model took me 48 hours and many hairs pulled to identify: the Toyota Verossa, on sale between 2001 and 2004 in Japan… We will see the Verossa again way further in my trip… A fascinating market composition that shows the lengths the Russian consumer is prepared to go for a value-for-money car.

8 GAZ Volga 1968 and 2004GAZ Volga

Roughly half of the cars in circulation in Omsk are older Russian models. As far as Ladas are concerned, the legendary Zhiguli is still commander-in-chief here, with the 2107 “high spec” model the most frequent. Then we have the 110, Samara and Kalina in this order. There are a lot of Volgas of all generations, particularly the last one, discontinued in 2008 but by the spotless look of some you would swear it is still on sale as new here.

10 UAZ BukhankaUAZ Bukhanka

6 GAZ GazelleGAZ Gazelle x 3

I’m starting to see more and more UAZ Patriot as we go further East and less foreign SUVs which is interesting, the UAZ Bukhanka has now become the default ‘non-transport’ van (police, ambulance, post office, banks…) while dozens of yellow GAZ Gazelle swarm the streets of Omsk as marshrutky (minivans)…

2 Hyundai SolarisHyundai Solaris

This leaves us with around 10 to 15% of relatively new cars in circulation, by far the lowest ratio I’ve seen so far and I’m anticipating it to stay at this level or even lower as I go further East and used Japanese imports become more and more prevalent… Given the small sample and the short amount of time I stayed in Omsk it is tough to give a truly reliable estimate of the best-selling new models but I will venture one nevertheless, and you will see once again it is pretty unique.

4 Lada GrantaLada Granta taxi

I would place the Lada Granta in pole position, but just. During the first few hours I barely saw any and wouldn’t even have placed it in the Top 5 but a sudden Granta-craze at rush hour changed my mind. The Hyundai Solaris is very popular in Omsk as well and I have to say so far this has been the most consistent model across the 5 cities I have visited. Similarly to Kazakhstan which is only 120km away (closer than any other big Russian city), I saw many shining new Lada Priora which could indicate it is still on the podium here contrary to the rest of the country. In fact, if you have a look at the best-selling cars in Kazakhstan last month you start to see a few similarities with the Omsk market…

5 Toyota RAV4Toyota RAV4

The big novelty is the Toyota Prado, absolutely everywhere in Omsk and way more popular than in any of the cities I visited so far. In fact, on top of grabbing a massive share of the used Japanese imports, Toyota is doing extremely well on the Omsk new car market: I would bet on the Corolla, Camry and Land Cruiser to all be in or close to the Top 10 here. Other successful new models include the Ford Focus, Renault Logan, Lada Largus, Kia Rio and Hyundai Elantra.

11 Toyota CorollaToyota Corolla

There are less SUVs in Omsk: the Kia Sportage, new generation Toyota RAV4, Hyundai ix35 and new generation Santa Fe stay afloat but the Renault Duster, Nissan Juke and Opel Mokka for example are much rarer than I got used to. Luxury models retain a presence but are much less frequent and limited to the true badass ones… Once again Infiniti is a winner with the traditional resident FX SUV, and I also saw a few Lexus RX, LX, LS, Mercedes ML-Class, GL-Class, E-Class and BMW 7 Series and X5.

7 Geely Emgrand EC7Geely Emgrand EC7 and the famous Omsk ‘slacker’ statue

We are not yet faced with a flood of Chinese models but I got the distinct impression of starting to see more and more of them in Omsk compared to Kazan or Yekaterinburg for example. I would even go as far as saying the Lifan Solano could have managed a Top 10 ranking here say for one month over the past couple of years. The telling sign is that for once there were much less Solano taxis than passenger cars which is a good indication of the model’s “adoption” by real consumers. I also spotted my first Geely Emgrand EC7 hatchback, along with the traditional Chery Very and Bonus, Geely MK and Great Wall Hover.

7b Lada LargusLada Largus taxi

I will end this Omsk report by a last weird trait: I saw one Toyota Tundra, Dodge Ram and Ford Mustang in the space of a few hours, all models I had not spotted once in the entire week I have been in Russia! To this point I cannot explain why Omsk consumers would be more fond of American specialties than the rest of Russia, so if you know something I don’t, please comment on this post!

9 GAZ Gazelle Hyundai SolarisGAZ Gazelle and Hyundai Solaris: common sights in Omsk, Siberia.

That’s it for Omsk, next stop in Tomsk (yep it’s a different city!), 940km to the North-East and now well and truly inside Siberia…

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Yekaterinburg, Ural Photo Report

1 Opel AstraThe Opel Astra is extremely popular in Yekaterinburg.

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This is part 4 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. We are now travelling a further 940 km East to Yekaterinburg, where the car landscape is once again very different from the cities I’ve explored before. It’s a mix of less Ladas, more sedans, some brand new models I had not seen yet in the country (not even in Moscow) and the big novelty: used right-hand drive Japanese imports.

2 Peugeot 301Peugeot 301

A couple of friends in the industry had told me that the more I would get East, the more Japanese the car landscape would become in Russia. Well Yekaterinburg is literally at the border of Europe and Asia and this phenomenon has already started, which is quite amazing when you look at a map of Russia: even though Yekaterinburg is some 1800 km East of Moscow, it is still way closer to the capital than it is to Vladivostok where these Japanese models hit Russian shores, an enormous 7300 km away!

3 Toyota Corolla

4 Toyota Corolla 2This was my very first immobile new generation Toyota Corolla! Got to take a few pics.

Vladimir from the #1 Russian magazine Zarulev even told me this fascinating story when I met him in Moscow: in Eastern Russia, it used to be much cheaper and easier to import used Japanese cars (with the steering wheel on the wrong side!) than transfer Russian cars from Moscow or St Petersburg. To the point where even the police was driving right-hand drive cars, and a move to driving on the left of the road was even considered for a while given there were more right-hand drive Japanese cars than left-hand drive Russian cars in the streets! This never occurred and the government has now made it easier to transfer cars around he country and is trying to encourage consumers to buy local with the opening of Mazda and SsangYong assembly plants in Vladivostok.

5 Kia Rio Lada 4x4Lada 4×4 and Kia Rio

There is no one used Japanese import model that is particularly popular, it is simply another layer that is inserting itself into the daily traffic. Most of these imports are mini MPVs, used as taxis or passenger cars. Think Honda Spike, Toyota Ist or Porte. But there was one model that left me speechless (yep, that happens) as I had absolutely no idea what it was. Hands up who guessed it is a Toyota Will Cypha, a short-lived attempt at a youth-oriented range in Japan that formed the basis of the Scion brand adventure in the US…

15 Toyota Will CyphaToyota Will Cypha

14 Yekaterinburg traffic 2Yekaterinburg traffic

Which new cars are the most successful in Yekaterinburg? The big surprise here is the popularity of the current generation Opel Astra, in 3 formats: coupe, hatchback and notchback. They are literally everywhere which is all the more surprising given there doesn’t seem to be a heritage of strong sales for the nameplate, not many older generations remain on the streets. Granted, the Astra may not be #1 in Yekaterinburg but I would definitely place it on the podium along with the Hyundai Solaris, probable leader, and the Kia Rio, both much more frequent in their sedan variant here. The Renault Logan is not far off these 3 leaders.

6 Lada GrantaLada Granta and Samara

Yes you have read well, the Lada Granta is not on the podium. Don’t get me wrong, it shouldn’t be too far off but it was much less ubiquitous than in Kazan. The Largus has had a good start here, in line with the national Top 10 ranking it is claiming at the moment. Which are the older Ladas I saw most often in Yekaterinburg? Definitely the Priora and 110 with the Samara a close third, and the Zhiguli and Kalina following at a distance. This is a surprising observation as I thought the more I would get East the more Ladas I would see. Again this may be biased by the fact that I stayed in the centre of the city.

9 Lada KalinaLada Kalina II

So far, Yekaterinburg is the city I saw the most novelties, sometimes for the first time in the country. I saw three new generation Skoda Octavia, one Citroen C-Elysee and three VW Golf VII, all being the firsts in the country so far, two Peugeot 301 and two Peugeot 208 vs. only one of each in St Petersburg prior to this, two Lada Kalina II vs. one in Kazan before that and two new generation Toyota Corolla, the same as in Kazan while I saw none in St Petersburg nor Moscow… Would the Russian dealership network put a priority on smaller Russian cities before delivering their all-new models to the capital? Or is broader Russia more fond of novelties? If you know something I don’t please comment on this article!

22 Mitsubishi OutlanderMitsubishi Outlander

Like in the rest of the country so far, Yekaterinburgers are very fond of small SUV: the Kia Sportage seems to be a favourite, with the Opel Mokka and new generations Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander already very well installed in the Yekaterinburg traffic along with the Renault Duster, Hyundai ix35, new gen Santa Fe, Nissan Qashqai, Juke, SsangYong Actyon, new gen Honda CR-V and Pilot.

8 Daewoo NexiaDaewoo Nexia

25 UAZ BukhankaUAZ Bukhanka

Apart from the Opel Astra, the models I definitely saw more often here than in the cities I visited before are the Daewoo Nexia in its current generation, potentially due to its production centre Uzbekistan becoming closer, the Peugeot 408, a true success in Yekaterinburg, new gen Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Venza and Hyundai Elantra, as well as the ante-diluvian UAZ “Bukhanka”, originally from 1965 and still very much in use thank you.

21 Infiniti FXLada Zhiguli and Infiniti FX

I thought by leaving Moscow I would have to say goodbye to big luxury SUVs. Not so. The new generation Range Rover has already made many Yekaterinburgers very happy, along with the Infiniti FX, almost at every street corner in the city centre, the Lexus RX, LX, Mercedes GL and Nissan Patrol.

12 Geely MKGeely MK

Another thing I thought is that I would progressively see more Chinese models as we get closer to that country, but not (yet?). If anything I saw less of them than in Kazan. Two stand out: the Great Wall Hover and Lifan X60, not surprisingly both SUVs. For once there were more Lifan Solano as passenger cars than taxis, I saw a few Lifan Smiley, Chery Cielo, Very and Bonus, two FAW Besturn B50 (the firsts I saw in the country), one new generation Chery Tiggo, one Lifan Breez (aka 520) and one Chery QQ6. Passing by chance near a Great Wall dealership I saw one FAW V5 which means FAW and Great Wall have the same distributor in China.

That’s it for Yekaterinburg! I hope you enjoyed the trip. Next stop: Omsk in Siberia.

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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Kazan, Tatarstan Photo Report

2 Lada SamaraLada Samara in Kazan, Tatarstan Russia – September 2013

See the Full Photo Report and my estimated Top 10 models by clicking on the title! *

This is part 3 of a Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Photo Report here. We are now off to Kazan, 800 km East of Moscow in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. Now that Russia’s biggest cities and their twisted car parks are out of the way, I figured Ladaland would start. And judging by the car landscape of the countryside I saw from the train approaching Kazan, it is definitely the case, with around 75% of vehicles being Ladas.

1 Lada GrantaLada Granta

This ratio goes down significantly once in Kazan but there is now definitely a much higher proportion of Ladas than there were in St Petersburg or Moscow. This is an opportune moment to make one remark: I only ever had time to explore the centre of each city I will take you through which may weigh the car park a little towards foreign brands and less Ladas, keep this in mind when you read the next Reports and please do comment on each article if you live in the city I’m describing and have a different view of its car landscape.

3 Chevrolet CobaltChevrolet Cobalt

A few minutes walking around in Kazan and one thing is for sure: the Lada Granta is definitely the best-seller here, holding a much larger market share than its national 6.3% average so far in 2013, I would say between 12 and 15%. They are literally everywhere, as taxis or passenger cars, two, three, four in a row – no doubt about it Kazan loves the Granta. The Lada Largus has also had a fantastic start here and could possibly claim a spot on the Kazan podium. The words of Vladimir from the Russian #1 magazine Zarulev: “the Russians have been waiting for a car like the Largus” cannot resonate better than here in Kazan.

4 Kia RioKia Rio and Lada Kalina station wagon

6 Hyundai Solaris Daewoo MatizDaewoo Matiz and Hyundai Solaris

The entire Lada range is still extremely well represented in this city, starting with droves of Kalina (especially the break variant as taxi), Samara, 110, Priora and Zhiguli in this order. I even saw my first Kalina II just next to the railway station. With the St Petersburg and Moscow markets I was starting to feel I was in a different country than Russia, so it’s good to finally see a car landscape that is much closer to the monthly national rankings I have been publishing!

5 Lada Granta Lada KalinaLada Granta and Kalina station wagon

The second striking element looking at Kazan streets is the strength of Chevrolet. Lots of Lacetti and Optra show Kazan’s love affair with the American carmaker is not new. As a logical consequence, this is by far the city where I saw the most Chevrolet Cobalt, a model I didn’t know was on sale in Russia until I spotted one in St Petersburg, but dozens of them in Kazan. The Cruze is also very popular here, but interestingly and contrary to what is the norm in Russia for this segment, the hatchback variant seems to be more successful than the sedan. And the Niva is of course everywhere.

7 Renault DusterRenault Duster x 2

8 Lada SamaraLada Samara

The Kia Rio could claim the 2nd spot in Kazan’s sales charts, with the Hyundai Solaris and Renault Duster not far behind. If the French SUV was making itself sparse in St Petersburg and Moscow, it has definitely convinced Kazan car buyers, who appreciate smaller SUVs like the Opel Mokka, surprisingly frequent in spite of its very recent launch, SsangYong Korando, Kia Sportage and new generation Toyota RAV4.

11 Kazan trafficKazan traffic

There are way more Daewoo Matiz and Nexia than in the two previous cities I visited and way less Ford Focus and VW Polo. Lots and lots of GAZ Gazelle LCV in all formats, and I saw the new generation (“Gazelle Next”) for the first time here. Luxury models are still around but limited to SUVs or bigger versions of sedans, typically the BMW 5 Series GT and Honda Accord Crosstour which I was surprised to spot.

9 Great Wall HoverGreat Wall Hover

Finally, it will be remembered that the city I saw my very first new generation Toyota Corolla, likely to be one of the two best-selling cars in the world in 2014, was Kazan in Tatarstan, Russia. Who would have thought?

That was Kazan! I hope you enjoyed the coverage. Next stop: Yekaterinburg just beyond the Asian ‘border’…

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